3 Steps to Protect Your Personal Data When the Big One Strikes

For many of us, the data stored on our computers practically defines our lives. As an inventor, computer scientist, software developer, photographer, technical writer and fiction author, the data and information that I produce is extremely valuable to me and to my livelihood. As I have started reducing paper financial records while migrating to electronic records, my data becomes even more important to me personally.

CLOUDSo where do I have all my data stored? Well, given that I have 20+ computers—so yes, I do rank in terms of geekdom—I actually have a networked storage system that provides me all my storage needs, but not my critical backup or disaster tolerance (DT) needs. Online backup services like Apple’s iCloud, Mozy, Carbonite, and others are good investments for protecting your increasingly valuable data.

While I didn’t personally experience the devastation of Superstorm Sandy, living and working in California’s Silicon Valley forces us to always be prepared for a disaster, for this is earthquake country. For us, it’s not a question of whether an earthquake will happen, it’s when and how bad this time. It’s a reality that we live with on a daily basis. Planning for a disaster that I know will happen eventually informs my entire strategy for protecting my data.

Three Levels of Data

The data that I have on my personal storage devices are classified into three types from a DT standpoint: must have, nice to have, and other.

Must-have data is all the data and information I produce that supports me and my family. This includes photos, patent information; financial, investment, and insurance information; birth and marriage certificates; writing projects and notes; software that I have developed; and other records that are not readily reproducible, etc. Anything I feel is valuable and that I need and cannot do without is must-have data.

Nice-to-have data is just that—nice to have. If it is destroyed, it might be missed, but I can live without it. Other data includes data and information that I can recreate and that will not be missed.

Three Levels of Back-up Storage

All my data is backed up daily and written to tape on my networked storage system. The tapes are stored offsite weekly. For most computer users, this is actually rather extreme, but then most computer users don’t operate what is, in fact, a small data center.

I take things a step further for my must-have data. It’s all copied to DVDs and stored quarterly in a safe deposit box at a local bank.

Last, all my must-have and nice-to-have data are also uploaded automatically and daily to two cloud storage services: iCloud and Mozy. The monthly cost to store this data is very inexpensive, and I have had occasion to actually recover data from both iCloud and Mozy while traveling on business.

In the past I have had colleagues who lost complete manuscripts and other valuable data in fires, floods, earthquakes or hurricanes. They simply didn’t protect what was on their hard drives, taking for granted that it would always just be there. If data has value to you, protect it like you would anything else that’s irreplaceable.

Image: Apple iCloud [Wikipedia]

2 Responses to “3 Steps to Protect Your Personal Data When the Big One Strikes”

  1. Steve Tabler

    I’ve been burned by every tape backup system I’ve ever used. I was happily using a system made by Onstream. Suddenly, the tapes were next to impossible to buy. The company had suddenly gone out of business. Then I had trouble with my drive and couldn’t read any tapes. I ended up buying a replacement drive on ebay, and some new tapes from another ebay seller. The drive was somewhat different from the drives previously sold by Onstream, and generated an error-code. It was, however, capable of reading my existing tapes, which I subsequently transferred to CD media. That was the last I have used Onstream.

    The next backup system I was burned on was a Quantum DLT4500 tape library. I had several conversations with the seller, and initially the device worked when I received it. I even registered it with Quantum so I could get tech support if needed. A few months later, I was moving, and I backed up data from several computers to the dlt. It is fortunate that most of my original drives survived the move, as the dlt tape library refused to function after I moved, and Quantum refused to offer anykind of tech support, advising me to buy their latest/greatest/most-expensive system instead.

    I’m not convinced that backing-up to a cloud-based service is a very good answer. For one thing, the vendor that has the cloud will be required to hand over the content to the government on-demand, assuming the government doesn’t arbitrarily maintain an image of everything automatically. Secondly, I’ve read of at least one case where the cloud service omitted certain items from being restored during a restore process becuase the item omitted was an App removed from the App store. Finally, home internet connections are far too slow for backup to a cloud service. I’ve been working for enough years on various projects that I have accumulated a few terrabytes of material I’d want to backup initially, and with my upload speed limited to 450kbps (faster speeds not being available), not to mention a new data ceiling per month (added since time of purchase), I just don’t see it becoming very practical for me.